[Mediawiki-l] CMS or NOT? (was: Categories as search filters for a Refined/Advanced Search Tool)

Rick DeNatale rick.denatale at gmail.com
Fri Feb 10 16:07:21 UTC 2006

On 2/6/06, Sy Ali <sy1234 at gmail.com> wrote:
> On 2/5/06, Roger Chrisman <roger at rogerchrisman.com> wrote:
> > Could anyone who feels with conviction that Mediawiki is NOT a CMS,
> > please explain.
> I don't.  In fact, I believe very strongly that a wiki is indeed a
> CMS.. since a wiki's primary purpose is to .. be a system to manage
> content.  However, some wikis do it in a "wiki way" and break the
> common-sense rules found with the older CMS'.

The critical word here, I think is "management".

> Now it's that "wiki way" philosophical difference that sets a
> "real-CMS" apart from the "wiki-CMS".

The wiki-way is doing content management only in the loosest sense. 
It's really a way of content organization, which allows the content to
be built up as a directed graph of nodes/articles/pages whatever you
want to call them.

But a wiki itself leaves management of the content to the users.  It
takes a laissez-faire attitude to controlling what the content is. 
Wikis are really a social experiment which tests the notion that a
base of interested users can police the content without requiring
sophisticated/complicated policies implemented in the software.

> A "proper CMS" manages its content in the traditionally strict "I am
> the management system, I am in charge" most especially with
> permissions.  It focuses on the _management_ part of CMS.
> A "wiki CMS" merely plays host to its content in a loose "let me help
> you put your content somewhere" most especially by allowing loginless
> anonymous contribution.  It focuses on the _content_ part of CMS.

We're in violent agreement here, except since wikis don't focus on
management, I think that it's stretching things to call them a Content
Management System. Perhaps another term like Content Aggregation
System might be more appropriate as a general term which would cover a
gamut including wikis, CMSes, file systems etc.

> Mediawiki is not a CMS in the traditional sense because it has not
> been created with the kind of strict security model which a
> traditional CMS would have.  Even though there are roles and
> permissions in MediaWiki (page locking, administrative pages) I
> understand that there is no faith in the existing security to extend
> it into CMS-like stuff like per-page unix style permissions.. like
> what a "traditional CMS" would have.

It's not really a matter of faith, but one of beliefs.  The "wiki-way"
is a belief that it's better to allow incorrect content to be quickly
fixed by users instead of putting security hurdles in place which
prevent this.  It's a belief that the user base is better at keeping
the content on track than a pre-planned authorization scheme.

> So the easy way to explain mediawiki's stance is to say it's not a CMS.
> Technically text files in a directory is a CMS.. technically mediawiki is a CMS.

It's interesting to note that the Content Management System article on
wikipedia makes no mention of wikis, and the Wiki article makes no
mention of CMS, Content Management System(s), (or even the word
management for that matter). This also appears to be the case with the
corresponding talk pages for these articles.

So while one could read the definition of CMS from the wikipedia
article as covering wikis, I think that it's stretching things a bit.

It seems that there are a lot of folks who discover wiki software like
mediawiki or one of its "competitors," then decide they really want
more "management" and start asking for features which are incompatible
with the belief system which motivates the wiki developers. At the
risk of stirring up controversy, that's somewhat like walking into a
mosque because you think that it's a beautiful building, wandering
around inside for a while, and then asking, "where can I get a beer? 
Let's put a bar in that corner!"

It's an example of Maslov's observation that "when the only tool you
have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."  When the tool bag
doesn't afford the tools to meet your needs, it might be time to start
looking at adding to it. Those looking for more structure to managing
access and creation of content, are probably better served by looking
at other tools such as drupal, plone/zope or the many other available
tools which come from different belief systems.

Rick DeNatale

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